Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Hey Ricky!

Tampa Bay’s defense focuses on stopping Saints’ rookie back


S John Lynch thinks he will be focusing mainly on RB Ricky Williams on Sunday

New Orleans dropped a last-second decision to the fledgling Cleveland Browns last Sunday, but it wasn't because they forgot their game plan. Rookie Ricky Williams, the big-time college running back that the Saints gave up multiple draft picks to acquire, was handed the ball 40 times and he turned it into 179 rushing yards.

Buccaneer defenders doubt that Saints coach Mike Ditka has altered his game plan over the last seven days. "What did they give it to him last week, 40 times?" said Tampa Bay S John Lynch, mostly rhetorically. "We expect pretty much the same thing tomorrow. I'll basically be playing linebacker this week."

It is, as it happens, exactly the type of challenge the Buccaneer defense was looking for this Sunday. Considered perhaps the top rushing defense in the NFL, Tampa Bay was stunned for 147 ground yards last Sunday night in Detroit, 123 by RB Greg Hill. The Bucs had not allowed a 100-yard individual rushing game in 1999 before the Lions contest, and had certainly given up nothing close to Detroit's gaudy 6.1 yards per carry average. It wasn't as much of a humbling experience as it was a hungering one.

"We're hungry for a challenge," said LB Derrick Brooks. "We love a game like this. We have to fine-tune our run defense, especially after last week. They have a lot of different running plays…we really couldn't prepare for all of them specifically, we just have to play our defense and stay in our gaps."

Without intending any disrespect to Hill, the Bucs' defenders felt last week's breakdown was more a matter of execution than personnel. While that must be corrected this week, the Bucs must also prepare for what many expect to be one of the NFL's top runners for the next decade.

"I see a guy that runs hard," said Brooks. "I have a lot of respect for him. I saw him get 40 carries last week, watched him on the field…he's got some moves. Our job is to welcome him to the National Football League tomorrow."

"He was running strong, even at the end," added Lynch. "What we saw that we have to take advantage of is that he's fumbling right now. We have to make him put it on the ground."

So far in 1999, Williams has rushed 153 times for 582 yards, averaging 3.8 yards per tote but, so far, not finding the end zone, even during last week's extensive effort. Expected to be the consummate workhorse, the NCAA's all-time leading rusher is easing into that role after fighting through fairly severe ankle and elbow injuries in the early going.

"They're going to hammer us with Ricky Williams," said Buccaneer Head Coach Tony Dungy. "We had trouble against the run last week, but I think that was an aberration."

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